Wolfsbane and Mistletoe by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Well, I pulled this book back off the shelf this year for another go at it, after the false start last Christmas. I have listed my thoughts on each story in the collection:
Gift Wrap by Charlaine Harris. Sadly, I was not impressed with the Sookie Stackhouse story. I felt it was in bad taste. I don't think it's funny to have someone's great-great-great-great, etc- grandfather (even if he's an amoral faery) hooking up his many-times granddaughter with a man for the holidays. I guess I should lighten up, but I found that idea offensive. I'm not here to judge people's personal lives, but when it comes to fiction, there are some things I don't like, and this is in that area of gross-out, ick-factor-ville for me. I don't like to put down people's writing, but I found the story to be very barebones and poorly characterized. Sookie came off as being especially vapid in this story. In general, I don't think she's a very deep character. But I found her likeable in Dead Until Dark and the short story I read out of Powers of Detection Stories of Mystery & Fantasy. However, she was very one-dimensional in this story. I can't say who would be thrilled that her many times grandfather enforced a geis on his subject to pretend to be someone else and seduce her so she wouldn't be alone on Christmas. But she didn't seem that bothered. Whatever happen to gift cards as Christmas presents? For the vulgar nature of this story, I have to give it 1.5 stars. I realize that there is a huge Sookie Stackhouse following, and no offense. We all like what we like. But I was underwhelmed. This story made me put down this very promising volume for a year, and put me off the series. I'm glad my mother was willing to take my Sookie Stackhouse omnibi off my hands for the time being until I muster up the courage to give Sookie another try. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.
The Haire of the Beast by Donna Andrews. This was a cute story. Short and sweet, and a bit of a twist on the werewolf genre story. I liked the inclusion of medieval scholarship and grimoires with recipes of various sorts. And there's a little bit of karma in store for an old flame who took credit for something he didn't do, but his ex-girlfriend, the protagonist, did. Recommended. 4 stars.
Lucy, at Christmastime by Simon R. Green. Not the best story I've read by Green, but pretty good. Very sad story. It takes place in the Nightside, but don't look for John Taylor in this one. However, the main character does make a visit to the Strangefellows bar to spend Christmas Eve. This story brings to ming the old school, sad werewolf tales. Recommended if you're not looking for a happy ending. 4 stars.
The Night Things Changed by Dana Cameron. Very interesting perspective on vampires and werewolves. They are good guys and are perpetually misunderstood by humanity, who they try to protect with their paranormal abilities. Dark and somewhat chilling, with some deeper meaning for a short tale. Recommended. 4 stars.
The Werewolf Before Christmas by Kat Richardson. What a great story to read around Christmastime. You must take a rather dark sense of humor into this story, for maximum enjoyment. It also helps if you believe in the magic of Christmas. I was quite shocked how it begins. Let's just say that Rudolph isn't around to lead Santa's reindeer after the first page of this story. This is my first time reading Richardson, and I'm glad I've been collecting her urban fantasy series. Recommended. 5 stars.
Fresh Meat by Alan Gordon. A great story for animal-lovers, particularly dog lovers. I've always believed in the intelligence of animals. Clearly the author does too. I love the loyalty shown by the protagonist's canine friends. This one brought a smile to my face, although it has some gruesome aspects. Recommended. 4.5 stars.
Il est Ne' by Carrie Vaughn. I wasn't sure what to expect with this story, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised. It had a very good buildup of tension as Kitty meets a young male who has become a werewolf, and is not in control of his inner wolf at all. When a string of horrible murder mutilations occurs, he suspects himself, and Kitty has reason to do so as well. Together they try to find out if he is the culprit, and if not, to catch the real killer. Kitty also teaches the fledgling wolf how to manage the beast within. Short stories are very hard to execute, so I give props to writers who manage to pick so much into a short tale. This one left me with tears in my eyes, as it really struck clear to my heart with its message about learning to control the darkness inside of one's self, and the fact that it's never to late to go home. If I wasn't a fan of Ms. Vaughn after reading
Kitty and the Midnight Hour, I certainly would be one now. 4.5 stars.
The Perfect Gift by Dana Stabenow. Writers of sizzling werewolf romance should take note of the fantastic chemistry that Ms. Stabenow creates between her two protagonists, two police officers who happen to be infatuated with each other, although they are trying to follow the rules about fraternization. They both happen to be werewolves, although the male is latent. I love the way she builds up the intense attraction between the characters, letting it simmer in the backdrop as they track a family of serial killers. The climax is powerful as the hero, Lobison, comes to face the reality of his heritage, triggered by his powerful desire for his partner, Romanov, and the full moon. The interesting thing is that Ms. Stabenow doesn't even write romance. Well I hope she decides to do some more werewolf stories, because she really won me over with this short, sizzling, and satisfying tale. 5 stars.
Christmas Past by Keri Arthur. This was my first read by Ms. Arthur, and I must say I enjoyed it. In many ways, it read like a standard lovers reunited romance story, with a paranormal twist. Hannah is a human member of a paranormal unit, with the ability to sense evil, that is on the hunt for a supernatural serial killer. She is trying to deal with the fact that her werewolf co-worker Brodie dumped her last Christmas, and he's trying to insinuate his way back into her life and her good graces. Initially, I wanted Brodie to take a long walk off a short pier, but as his actions convince Hannah that he deserves a second chance, he starts to win my trust as well. While I won't be reading the Riley Jensen books, this story has convinced me to consider reading other works by this author that doesn't involve a lead character who engages in polyamory sexual encounters. 4 stars.
SA by J.A. Konrath. I was a bit worried with how this story started. I don't like body humor, particularly of the scatological variety. But this is a case of following the 'Keep Reading' edict, because this story was one heck of a fun ride. I laughed myself into a coughing fit. This was one of the funniest stories I've had the pleasure to read in a while. Imagine a group of people who turn into animals, called therioantropes. Then imagine that that they have the were-animal version of Alcoholics Anonymous. On top of that, their worst enemies are Santa Claus and the Salvation Army. It sounds incredibly stupid as a concept. But I have to say that Mr. Konrath did a fantastic job of pulling that premise off. This was a thoroughly enjoyable story, despite the scatological humor that was vaguely disgusting, but still managed to be in good taste. 5 stars.
The Star of David by Patricia Briggs revisits a character I met in Moon Called. David Christensen is a mercenary who is also a werewolf. I am so happy to see African Americans in urban fantasy, especially appealing characters like David. David is an honorable man who made a terrible mistake long ago, unable to keep his wolf under control, and lost his daughter's respect and companionship as a result. However, she needs his help to protect a foster teen who is in danger from some supernatural elements. This story was intense and involving, for all its shortness. I am impressed yet again with Ms. Briggs writing. She manages to create a very magical world in her stories, but the characters are very human, and you cannot help but care about them. David is no different. He is everything that a father should be, and I ached for him, that he felt his relationship with his daughter was lost forever. I hope that Ms. Briggs continues to include David and his family in her werewolf books. 5 stars.
You Better Not Pyout by Nancy Pickard manages to be humorous, yet gritty and scary at the same time. It's about two Russian vampires who decide to cut themselves in on vampire Santa Claus gig, which allows him unlimited access to many houses, and the warm, blood-filled bodies within, all year-round, since he is invited in on Christmas Eve to deliver presents. I was a bit horrified at the thought of a vampiric Santa. Part of me still believes in the spirit of Santa Claus (I know he's not real, but in a way he is real to me), so that really hit home with me. The Russian vamps were hilarious, as well as some of the Christmas vampire gags. The werewolf aspect was very cool. The werewolf is a female scientist who is devoted to protecting and saving the few African wild dogs that remain in existence. It turns out that they raised her from a pup, and she has never forgotten her allegiance to them. I just love the pack dynamics in werewolf stories. I have always thought of myself as more of a cat person, but I think I must be equally a dog person, because the nature and the sociology of dogs is very interesting to me. This story was very vivid. I could picture myself in the frigid cold of the North Pole, confronted with a Santa Claus from a horror fan's worst nightmares. This Santa scares me much more than a knife-wielding, homocidal-maniac Santa ever could. Even the reindeer were kind of menacing. I also loved the descriptions of Africa. How I wanted to be there, running with the pack. I really enjoyed this story. 5 stars.
Rogue Elements is my first Karen Chance story, but it won't be my last. The elements of the werewolf clans were so richly infused into this story. I love when a writer gives so much care to the werewolf lore and pack hierarchy, since I feel that werewolf stories are so neglected in urban fantasy. The weres are so much more interesting to me than vampires (although I am a big vampire fan), and the structure of werewolf clans in this story caught my interest right away. Great action, interesting characters, and a dash of sexual attraction and romance, all add up for a very pleasing read. I hope that Ms. Chance revisits this world in future stories. I'd like to see more adventures of the heroine, Accalia, who is a War Mage and is part Were, although she refuses to Change. Very interesting! 5 stars.
Milk and Cookies is by one of my favorite urban fantasy writers, Rob Thurman. I thought I'd miss a story without Cal and Nik, but this story kept me so drawn in, I realized that anything she writes is something I want to read. She tells one heck of a tale with this story of a young teen who is trying to deal with a bully (Yes, I know how he felt. I think I had a 'pick on me' sign on my forehead all the way through school.) Oh, how she draws you in for the twist that you don't see coming until this story is almost over. If you like coming of age stories, you should read this one. It will cause you to feel a bit uneasy, but it's worth the read. 5 stars.
Keeping Watch Over His Flock by Toni L. P. Kelner is one of those tales where you decide you do not like the protagonist, but you are forced to change your mind. I found Jake to be a complete and utter brat, with a major case of 'Teenager Who Drives Me Crazy' syndrome. Yet, I found I had to revise my opinion. I think we were all annoying teenagers, although we forget this as we age. The lessons that we learn are invaluable, allowing us to grow and to change from our selfish views of the world, to embrace the responsibility that we all have in the world to each other. This is Jake's journey in this tale. He is just finding the pack, having been an orphan, passed from foster home to foster home. He is having trouble getting adjusted to following so many rules, and observing traditions that seem just plain hokey to him. But he learns the real message behind the Christmas story about the wolf who watches over the baby Jesus on the first Christmas night. I loved that tale. It was so meaningful to me. What a unique idea to integrate werewolf myth into the Christmas story. And how it ties into the overall tale is wonderfully executed, as Jake learns that being able to enjoy the fruits of werewolf-dom also comes with a resonsibility to protect those in need of protection. Another scary view of Santa (thankfully not the real one in this case), but a human monster kind of scary. 4.5 stars.
This was a rocking cool collection. The only story I disliked was the Sookie Stackhouse story, but I won't let this bump the overall rating down too much. Because I was so happy with this collection, I'd give it an overall rating of 4.5/5.0 stars. I highly recommend this to werewolf fans. I don't think you'd be disappointed at the varied and delicious fare offered in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.
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